Announcements - 2000/01 - Dark Thaw

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January 2000 - Patch Page



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Dark Thaw

January 19, 2000

After his long journey gathering spell components, Kobo Taki hurried through his estate, barely pausing in the courtyard to greet his gardeners, who labored among puddles and dwindling humps of snow. Once in his study, he locked the door and, after a quick search, located the book he needed and scanned frantically through its pages for a particular passage: "If the crystal breaks, its scions will appear and shadows will well up over the earth." Did this apply to the floating crystals and shadow creatures he'd seen on his journey? Finding no more information, he pulled a chair up to the window and gazed over the waterlogged fields. It was common knowledge that a band of heroes had dispelled the recent winter. After battling their way to the lair of undead necromancers, they had destroyed the giant crystal that sucked the heat from the land. Perhaps this crystal was the one in the text. If so, the heroes may have unwittingly brought down a terrible curse...

Rollout Article

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A Dark Thaw Has Arrived

January 21, 2000

Kobo Taki confronted a throng of impassive Gharu'ndim as he finished his initial proposal to the Zaikhal council. They had all agreed that the strange crystal beings and shadow monsters demanded some concerted action, but as he suspected, they doubted the various rogue mages would ever cooperate.

"Let's be frank," said Asaina al-Arqis. "Mages guard their knowledge too closely. The most powerful ones will never form fellowships."

Kobo smiled. "They already have. I represent a consortium of the Archmages." A murmuring went up immediately as the council members turned to each other for corroboration. "Yes," he went on, "they exist, and they've determined that the forces now gathering against humanity demand that magicians cooperate. Already they have finished an ambitious joint project: a series of magical robes. Each of the robes temporarily increases the wearer's aptitude in a particular magic discipline; however, to achieve this effect, it also weakens the wearer in other areas of magic. A given robe is therefore a dangerous tool for a single mage, but a set of the robes may greatly enhance a well-balanced party."

"This is indeed intriguing," said Asaina, "but why have the Archmages not come forward themselves to make this announcement, and where can we acquire these robes?"

"My masters are occupied with their work," he replied. "As for acquiring the robes, you must address them in person."

"And where can they be found?"

Kobo smiled once again. "I do not know -- they contact me when the mood suits them. They ask that we work together to seek them out."

Dereth's heroes have destroyed the Great Work, an artifact created by undead necromancers to drain the heat from the world. As a result, the snow has retreated to higher elevations, along with the enchanted snowmen, but grave new perils are stalking out to confront adventurers. Thankfully, new magic robes have been created just in time to address these threats. We urge you to avail yourselves of the robes and any other magical adjuncts and join forces. No one knows what these hostile new creatures may ultimately portend.

Release Notes

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Asheron's Call Build Notes, January 20

Here are all the tiny little details of the game update that was made on the morning of January 20, 2000. This list is culled from "check-in" notes submitted by the game developers themselves.

For a shorter description of the most significant changes in this update, please refer to the latest "Spin from Turbine" article on the AC News page on the Zone Web site.

Some changes are not in these build notes, because that would spoil the fun of finding all that has been added or changed! Many changes are a reaction to the completion of December's Sir Tremblant quest, and set up for major worldwide plot developments coming in the next update. Also, the trades of crafting and selling are always in flux, so changes to prices and abilities of items are not always detailed here.

Overview of the January 20, 2000 Update:

  • Changes have been made to reflect the completion of the Frore quest and other happenings from the December event.
  • Winter is receding -- not completely, but green is returning to the world.
  • Made changes to the treasure to rebalance magic items, and (most importantly) to add MORE TREASURE TO THE GAME! Whoo!
  • Olthoi have a couple more tricks in their arsenal, and Aurochs are more of a challenge.
  • Fixed item-loss-upon-death routines to deal with exploits.
  • Fixed additional cases of exploitable behavior linked to jumping.
  • Fixed a handful of locations where players could be trapped behind content.
  • Altered a number of exploitable locations, to minimize "unfair" camping.
  • Moved monster-encounters which were too close to certain lifestones.
  • NPC's are no longer as easy to lead away from their locations.
  • Fixed problems with casting a spell when you have exactly enough mana.
  • Numerous usability changes and minor fixes to the client.
  • Several miscellaneous bugs were squished.

Detailed Notes for builds 2256-2264:

Frore Changes:

  • Specialty Cookbook updated with contest winner names.
  • Snowangel still emotes, but no particles (since snow no longer on the ground everywhere).
  • Other minor changes to Frore dungeon, and related locations.

Treasure Balance:

  • Changed monster loot formula mixes, generally improving loot across the board.
  • Updated the treasure systems modifiers to magic item spellcraft and thus difficulty ratings, so they won't span beyond a new lower cap. (Some magic items produced by the treasure system had the potential to be unbalancing.)

Monster Balance:

  • Mosswarts and Golems no longer cast Defenselessness Other spells.
  • Olthoi high attacks now hit players exploiting dungeon pieces.
  • Aurochs are back in fighting condition.
  • Olthoi can open their Olthoi-cave doors.

Exploit Behavior Fixes:

  • You now can't cast spells while in the air.
  • You now can't change combat modes while in the air.
  • You now can't jump when linking out of a non-jumping state (such as lying down or picking something up).

Exploit locations/Balance locations:

  • Creature Encounters at some locations have been removed because they were too close to lifestones.
  • Fixed some areas in the town of Colier and Colier Mine.
  • Fix for the Nevius Passage dungeon.
  • Removed/replaced some doors.
  • Upper exit to Mount Lethe dungeon is not summonable.
  • Destination of Olthoi Tunnels portal changed.
  • Ridge being exploited by players who shoot Lugians all day long -- fixed the slope of the ridge to give the Lugians some traction.
  • Winthur Gardens -- fixed a place where players could get trapped.
  • Objects in Fort Whitshire Dungeon were trapping players.

Content Additions:

  • Backpacks can now have colors just like the sacks in shopkeep inventories.
  • New emote: warm hands, warm up hands, blow hands, blow in hands, and blow on hands now cause you to blow on your hands, and a cloud of steam emerges.

Misc. Client Fixes:

  • INFINITY no longer showing up in some cases in the stats panel.
  • Confirmation now prompted when spending skill credits to train a skill in stats panel.
  • You can now do more than 32767 attacks without causing attack animations to stop playing.
  • The Delete Char "Are you sure" window now defaults to No when "Enter" is hit .
  • Sends a close window message to the fliphelp window when logging out (which should stop the bug when being booted, or hitting shift escape).
  • Lugians and boulder now degrade at 64m, which makes it easier to see it from tossing range.

Misc. Game Fixes:

  • Items flagged "always lose on death" will no longer count against the number of items you are supposed to lose on death. So, no more death-item-proofing yourself!
  • Negatively enchanted items reduced their spellcraft to 0 during spellcasting regardless of the spellcraft value specified in data, yielding 100% resistance for all players. Oops! Fixed.
  • Double-clicking on parchment in corpse doesn't grab it as expected -- fixed.
  • When a spell drains exactly your amount of mana from you, the spell will be cast.
  • Portals summoned on top of players will now be created. (Players will still need to double-click on these portals to use them, avoiding exploitability.)
  • AIs are now restricted to moving no more 5m when giving an item to someone.
  • Collectors now slide along edges, not fall.

Misc. Minor Changes and Fixes:

  • The Drunken Madmad and Gilhud the Hermit are now working properly again.
  • Vivaina of Stonehold buys gems and jewels.
  • Underground City updated -- festival lights reverted. Broken link fixed.
  • Fixed a wrong statement when making fruitcake batter. It said you failed when you really succeeded.
  • Deleted extra space in the Writings of Jhong Mia.
  • Festival lantern halos now toned down somewhat.
  • RockyCrypt portal is green, not blue.
  • Pedestals in libraries aren't ethereal now.
  • Fixed a minor typo in the Arwic Tailor shop string.
  • Can see through sections in some dungeons -- Fixed.
  • Greater Frog Crotch arrows were mislabeled -- Missing "Greater" from the name.
  • Dungeon Mount-Lethe updated.
  • Dungeon Ancient-Lighthouse -- Two duplicate doors removed, torch light intensity reduced.
  • Dungeon Crater-Caves updated.
  • Guardian Crypt -- changed the height of some candles in this dungeon. Also updated to fix the see-thru hallway bug.

Letter to the Players

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The Spin From Turbine

January 21, 2000

Putting the "U" in "FUN"

Sometimes, this job just makes me crazy.

(The title of this month's article is a sure sign of my encroaching insanity. “The 'U' in 'Fun'?” Sheesh!)

Events are a critical part of Asheron's Call, providing new content to users and advancing the epic saga that will unfold through the years ahead. A large part of our ongoing commitment to Asheron's Call is making them happen, and making them special. But as time goes on, we've found our events (and our team) trying to meet two very different demands: one, to create an experience which provides entertainment for every player in Dereth; and two, to keep pace with your unstoppable creativity and efforts to interpret, master, and foretell what our events may hold.

To that end, let me take a moment to respond to some “news reports” which have swirled by in months past:

  • There was never a Frost King, set to unleash hordes of icy creatures upon the world.
  • There are no alien heads in the game . . . yet. (Actually, that's a rumor that a content-team member asked me to start. Honest. Move along.)
  • Sir Joffre Tremblant never traveled anywhere near Qalaba'r.
  • There is no master plan to make every event culminate in a massive invasion of Holtburg by anything, ever.
  • There was never a “secret room” on the side of the Tou-Tou Lighthouse. Seeking it through a well-timed jump got you nothing more than a flatter-than-average corpse.
  • No one ever saw meteors actually hit and flatten Shoushi, or experienced first-hand the impact of the crimson comet slamming into Dereth, ending the world and our Beta-testing cycle.
  • And Lilitha's Greater Bow is just a gleam in the eyes of many, many eager players.

If you get involved with the fansite community or AC newsgroups, or simply hang out in the Zone's chat lobbies (hi, Sean!) -- you may be familiar with many of the above rumors and discussions. Ever since the announcement of our first event, players have sought to piece together various happenings and minutiae into a “big picture” that explains AC's story. In one massive game of “Telephone” reaching beyond Dereth and spanning the Internet, players have turned innocent speculation and conjecture into “My friend saw the Olthoi Queen doing the shimmy on the balcony of the Cerulean Cove! And her dancing's pretty good!” You've conjured an endless stream of forecasts and expectations for the game, more varied and exciting than I think any game could ever accomplish.

I love it.

One of the most thrilling moments I've ever experienced in Asheron's Call came at the end of Beta. The Turbine designers huddled around a couple of computers at the beginning of the “Fire in the Sky” event. We oohed and aahed at the burning towers, rubbed our hands together in anticipation of the first Fire Elementals screaming out of the sky, and (after a brief stop in the Disco Hut) headed to The Crater that Was Shoushi to see how players were reacting to the changes we'd wrought.

Standing amid the stunned vendors at the crater's edge, players admired the property damage, and laughed as an occasional adventurer logged in to the center of town, only to realize it had been replaced with a glowing pit and a swift drop. Scattered conversations tried to piece together what had happened, and what was next. Then, something occurred which hammered home just how cool games like Asheron's Call could get.

“Friends! We are doomed! Shoushi is only the beginning! It's the end of the world!”

A player had become Shoushi's unofficial Prophet of Doom*, lamenting what had occurred and declaring what was to come. All he needed to complete the image was a large “The End Is Nigh!” sandwich-board strapped to his body. Even if we'd thought of it, we couldn't have programmed an NPC to navigate the world freely while spouting a potentially endless stream of end-of-world rants. It was a role concocted by this player, uniquely suited to him, and pulled off with panache. He might have stopped after two minutes and run off to bash drudges -- I don't recall -- but the image of this self-styled “town crier” stuck with me.

In that moment, I learned just what roles our players would take in our events -- any and every role we could think of, and several more that we couldn't. At first glance, it seemed that creating events just became much harder -- but in fact, our jobs got significantly cooler.

(Warning! Strained metaphors ahead! Please don your protective goggles!)

Asheron's Call is a game that's larger than the designers, Turbine, or (even!) Microsoft could ever hope to control. The threads of gameplay, story, and exploration we provide are knitted into something greater by the imaginations, desires, and vision of thousands of players. From every seed of content or narrative placed in the game grows a garden of reactions, perspectives, and uniquely personal adventures.

(You may remove your goggles now.)

When we create an event, we could never hope to produce enough unique, sculpted story-elements to satisfy our thousands of players. But the trick is, we don't have to. When we create something like December's Frore quest, our goal is to create the spine of an adventure, with a series of locations which push the story forward, rewards to be collected, and threats to be overcome. We season it with bits of backstory, garnish with a few hints towards the future of our plot, and top with a malevolent, heat-devouring Crystal-Thingy.

Then we get the heck out of the way, and let you tell the story to us.

We had no idea who would enter Frore first, or how their adventure would unfold. But when the first groups of players conquered the Great Work, they each left Frore with a vivid and unique story to tell. Those are the stories that matter.

Stories are nothing without compelling characters; our goal is to tell great stories, collaboratively, with our players as the most important and compelling characters around. More than the technology, more than the game systems that measure when I've moved from level 5 to level 6 (cut me some slack, I just started a new character!) -- it's this collaborative storytelling that gets me jazzed about Asheron's Call.

It definitely isn't science, and I don't know if it's art or just a bunch of happy accidents -- but it's definitely a learning process. Issues we consider important to address as events develop:

  • How do we find more ways to involve large groups in an event? Our “Fire in the Sky” Beta-event encouraged large groups to scour the landscape in search of fragments of a prophecy; how can we extend that sort of behavior to encompass entire allegiances?
  • How do we balance specific quests in specific locations with new content (items, clothing, spells, new monster-encounters) for everyone? The former is great for communicating stories, but the latter affects more players across the board.
  • How do we balance events to include both lower-level and higher-level adventurers? Frore, while compelling, focused solely on high-level players; we want the “meat” of future events to suit a wider array of levels.
  • How do we prevent the handful of new quests, chests and dungeons we create for the latest event from turning into feasts of crowding and camping. Frore tried some new tricks to manage crowding; we are still searching for the best possible solutions.

As we get the hang of it, and learn just what sorts of stories we can bring you into, look for adventures to become ever more compelling. We're searching for ways to weave players into stories in ways you might not expect, and to turn your decisions in these stories into something more meaningful and affecting than just killing a monster or opening a chest. The roles you take on in these adventures should make you feel something more than just the thrill of battle, the pleasure of reading a good story, or the pride of “having gotten there first.” When we achieve that level of emotional involvement, then we'll really have something.

In the meantime, if Bael'Zharon comes calling, don't be too afraid. ;)

Ongoing Game Balance

Not one to simply fill my personal soapbox with well-intentioned rants, I should note that in addition to events, efforts continue to address the ongoing balance of the game. The Build Notes posted elsewhere summarize the changes in our January update; here are issues being reviewed for future updates:

  • Melee Balance: We recognize that warriors have a harder time doing as much damage as archers or mages of similar level. We are looking carefully at how we might keep warriors competitive with other players, and are focusing on ways to make warriors more powerful than they are now.
  • High-Level Magic and Magic Defense: As players grow in level, it's highlighting a potential imbalance between the highest levels of spellcasting, and the ability to defend against them. We are looking carefully at this aspect of magic-balance.
  • Treasure: The increase in treasure in this update is a gradual one, to ensure that we do not accidentally flood the game with loot; we will be looking to see if additional adjustments are needed in future updates.
  • Crowding and Portal Storms: The current system for generating portal-storms which disperse crowded areas is often unfair in who it chooses to teleport; we are looking to make it fairer.
  • Allegiance-Gatherings: There will always be limits on the size of crowds in AC, given the nature of its technology and the Internet, but we are seeking ways to increase these limits. We are looking into ways to allow larger groups to congregate under certain circumstances or in certain areas, in order to help allegiances organize and socialize.
  • Fellowships and Experience: There have been some observations that fellowships provide too little sharing of XP between fellows. We're looking into those calculations, to see if we can make them “share the wealth” a bit more fairly.
  • “Camping”: Right now, several locations in the game provide “easy” adventuring for players. While we agree that this is a fun way to play the game, it seems to be a bit too unbalancing right now. We are considering ways to address camping while retaining that style of gameplay for those who enjoy it.
  • PK Balance: When considering the balance between warriors, archers and mages, we will also pay attention to the related, but different, balance issues between these classes when the characters are Player Killers. Any balance changes we do will attempt to serve both purposes, improving the game for both NPK's and PK's.
  • Weapon Balance and Availability: We are still investigating how to ensure that players of all melee classes are balanced with each other and have fair access to their weapons as treasure.
  • Vagabonds: Don't hit me!

Well, every paragraph I write leaves me less time to spend buffing my new archer. See you *round the Gharu'ndim lands!

--Chris "Slapp" Foster

Allegiance Problem on Leafcull

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Allegiance Problem on Leafcull

Jan. 21, 2000

On the afternoon of 1/20/2000, after the January update was made, players in Leafcull immediately noticed something had gone wrong with their allegiances. Their allegiance associations were broken or had reverted to the state they were in days or weeks ago. No other problems seem to have occurred, and no other worlds were affected.

We immediately investigated and found what had happened. Some time ago, a never-before-seen bug affected the Leafcull transaction log of our player database. Unnoticed by us, this bug prevented the log from being truncated properly, so it swelled quickly to a huge size and overran its hard drive. As a result, many subsequent transactions were not recorded. When the Leafcull server was restarted for the update, these transaction logs were used to rebuild the allegiances, but the rebuild stopped at an old state, since the latest transactions were never recorded.

Though we do character database backups, this particular kind of problem was not anticipated. Most of the database is fine, but this part describing the allegiances is lost. We had an option to restore the whole Leafcull character database to the most recent backup, but that would set every single player back in time: experience points, items, locations, allegiances, gold -- everything would "time warp" back. So the dilemma was: Make absolutely everyone lose absolutely everything gained over a small amount of time, or let those with significant allegiance ties lose just those ties, but further back in time? It has been an agonizing decision, but we have decided to let the allegiance associations stay broken. However, we will be looking at everyone's level and award you the XP that it would take to re-swear to an allegiance so that you will end up not being penalized. This will take place by next Friday. You can choose to either reform your allegiance now, with the knowledge that the XP penalty that it takes to re-swear will be awarded back to you late next week, or wait until the XP is awarded.

We are eliminating the bug that made this happen in the first place. We are revising our backup scheme to assure that if anything like this does happen again, we will lose much less data. Doing these tasks is our top priority.

We deeply apologize to the players of Leafcull for this setback. We know it is as if a dark sword swooped from the sky and severed many loyal bonds. We wish we could say an evil force under the surface of Dereth did it, but regrettably, this was a much more mundane problem. We sincerely hope that the players of Leafcull are able to re-forge their bonds to be even stronger than before.
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